• SHARE

I’ve been looking forward to the new show at the Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery. Trying not to sound sexist here, there was more than a little appeal in the show’s title: “Girl! Girl! Girl!” I guess I’m just a regular guy, sweltering through summer, looking for some easy distraction. A Steve McQueen film festival, or an exhibition titled “Beer! Beer! Beer!” would have had a similar effect.

Curated by Motoaki Hori, “Girl! Girl! Girl!” features new and recent work from 10 Japanese artists aged between 26 and 40. There is a wide range of media and styles served up here, and overall I found the show satisfying — save an oversupply of the cuteness that eats away at so much contemporary Japanese art like sugar on teeth.

Each artist gets a room, and first up is Yasuko Fujiwara. “Helmet” comprises eight painted safety helmets sitting atop stacked red cones, and eight big monochrome photographic portraits of construction guys wearing helmets. There are sandbags in the corner and a big stylized “Helmet” logo projected on the floor. I don’t know why, but I felt instantly happy walking through this installation. A young fellow who saw me come in was also smiling and we ended up laughing together — now that, let me tell you, is a rare thing at Tokyo art shows. Fujiwara has clearly done something right in building atmosphere here. Or perhaps traffic cones are just intrinsically funny.

Next up is the also impressive “Madonna” by Tomoko Sawada. Antique European boudoir furniture sits in a dimly lit room done up in shades of red from floor to ceiling, while on a small video monitor Sawada appears in some 30 different personas. The artist developed these characters over six months, employing different dress, makeup, facial expressions and body language. She also undertook severe dieting and eating binges, which resulted in a weight variation of some 20 kg. Sawada then submitted photos to various marriage arrangers for consideration, offering herself as a potential bride. The sardonic quality of the video is a good contrast to the sweet scent of perfume in the room.

My favorite piece in the show is Miyako Yamazaki’s “One Summer Museum,” a re-creation of the interior of a beachfront shanty, complete with mellow background music — you can almost hear the surf rolling in. There is an old wooden easel in the center of the room and dozens of seaside paintings stacked against the walls, tinging the air with the light scent of fresh paint. There’s also a kitchen, where a copy of new-age spiritualist Alex Grey’s “Mission of Art” sits on top of a refrigerator next to a stainless steel coffee percolator. This room envelops you in a faraway, yet weirdly familiar, feeling — it’s easy to imagine your dream partner outside gathering flowers to paint, while you strum a ukulele and gaze out at the blues and greens of the sky and ocean.

In a corner of Yamazaki’s installation there is the three-person capacity “Splendor Theater,” which screens a video of a weatherworn Hawaiian beach guru philosophizing on man’s injustice to man, atom bombs and so on. Also here is assorted flotsam and jetsam, a mock-up seashell shop, and, well, you get the idea. Aloha!

Alas, the cuteness comes up next, in the form of the “Are You Meaning Houses Project,” by artists’ group Are You Meaning Company. This is a cookie-cutter diorama of a neighborhood of houses differentiated chiefly by the color of their roofs. Also cute is “Go Berry Wild” by Chiko and Toko Project, which is a big, guitar-shape coloring station, surrounded by illustrations from the cutesy fantasy story of “Nepue,” which we won’t get into, and little dolls — though this particular cuteness can be forgiven because “Go Berry Wild” was designed for children.

I rather enjoyed Tanishi K’s walk-through maze, “Stop Over.” Inside the maze are photographs and a video of K’s performances in which, dressed as a sort of flight attendant, she pushes a trolley through inner-city commuter trains offering tea and coffee to surprised passengers. Some smile and many ignore her. The reactions make the video fun to watch and underscore the idea that the act of creativity starts with a willingness to do the unexpected, and can be most effective when taken out of the galleries and museums and into the streets (or trains).

Rounding out the show are Tomoko Maezawa’s static security-guard and surveillance-video piece; Yumito Awano’s easily missed paper and straw assemblages; and a wall full of Jenny Holzer/Barbara Kruger-esque work by text artist Hiroko Ichihara, done in black on white and in both Japanese and English. (I would suggest the next time Ichihara goes bilingual she employ a good proofreader.)

In Opera City’s upstairs gallery is late work by abstract painter Tatsuoki Nambata, and in the Project N corridor they have nice pastel flower landscapes in oil on canvas by Minoru Inoue

Also, those with families should know that each weekend in August, Opera City Gallery is holding special arts-and-crafts workshops for children. Those without children should be aware that on these days the “Girl! Girl! Girl!” galleries will be literally crawling with kids.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

PHOTO GALLERY (CLICK TO ENLARGE)